Bioinformatics Scientist

Bioinformatics is a field that combines analytics and data representation to make sense of the vast amounts of data generated every day. The field takes cues from the world’s organisms to build a healthier and cleaner future and has a staggering number of applications in the modern tech landscape.

In the past few decades, the sheer volume of data has increased exponentially, in large part due to the growing repositories of rich biodata from the fields of genomics and molecular biology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an uptick in the percentage of bioinformatics and related positions in our economy, such as in the occupations of computer and information research scientists, biomedical scientists, and biomedical engineers.

O*NET (an affiliate of the Department of Labor) defines bioinformatics as an occupation for professionals who will “conduct research using bioinformatics theory and methods in areas such as pharmaceuticals, medical technology, biotechnology, computational biology, proteomics, computer information science, biology and medical informatics.” Furthermore, bioinformatics professionals “may design databases and develop algorithms for processing and analyzing genomic information, or other biological information.”

As the preponderance and availability of data grows, the need to interpret that data will keep pace. Mapping cancer genomes, for example, involves serious data input from thoroughly-analyzed genetic fragments. As with every other modern medical field, data analytics plays a major role in bioinformatics, even if you have no plans of studying engineering or computer science. Some basic understanding of data management and presentation are useful, as well.

Bioinformatics Scientist Specialization & Career Types

There are a number of bioinformatics scientist specializations and career types available for the scientifically-minded. They include informatics research in the following fields:

  • Microbial genomics
  • Molecular medicine
  • Personalized medicine
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Preventative medicine
  • Drug development
  • Gene therapy
  • Evolutionary studies
  • Biotechnology
  • Waste cleanup
  • Crop improvement
  • Insect resistance
  • Alternative energy sources
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Zoology
  • Animal behavioral studies
  • Climate change studies
  • Forensic analysis
  • Machine learning
  • Bio-weapon creation
  • Improvement of nutritional quality
  • Development of drought-resistant varieties
  • Veterinary science

Most careers available in bioinformatics can be found in computer information science, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology, computational biology, proteomics, and medical informatics. Such professionals often develop algorithms; build databases; and present data, studies, and research to other bioinformatics professionals. Databases are typically used for processing and analyzing things like genomic information or genetic trends.

As an area of study, bioinformatics draws on biology, information technology, computer science, statistics, informatics, mathematical modeling, computational theory, data charting, data analytics, and administration.

Coursework and essential knowledge may include the following subjects: probability, statistics, computing, population genetics, molecular genomic analysis, sustainability mathematics, epigenomic data analysis, biostatistics, biological mathematical modeling, and even computational neuroscience.

Bioinformatics is almost always chosen as a specialization at the graduate level. Most students come from undergraduate courses of study in fields like biology, computer science, chemistry, biochemistry, or bioengineering. In recent years, more and more undergraduate programs in bioinformatics have begun to emerge. Some of them are profiled below.

Bioinformatics is used in conjunction with many other approaches to data analytics to address the highly-specialized needs of a wide variety of clients. These jobs include the application of analytical theory, computer science, and programming to the fields of computer information science, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology, computational biology, proteomics, and medical informatics.

Admissions Requirements for Bioinformatics Programs

Admissions requirements for bioinformatics programs generally include a background in the health sciences, computer science, biology, or behavioral sciences.

Bachelor’s programs typically require a minimum GPA of 3.2 and test scores (SAT/ACT) for admission. They include 120 credits of undergraduate work in bioinformatics or psychology, and courses in science, humanities, philosophy, analytics, and information technology.

Master’s degree programs require candidates to submit a competitive GPA, official transcripts, and in some cases, test scores (GRE) or letters of recommendation. The graduate-level programs in bioinformatics see students diving deeper into the fields of data science, document management, and visual representation to gain a better understanding of what we can learn from all that data we generate.

Bioinformatics Program Accreditation

Students enrolling in academic programs should look into a school’s accreditation status. Accreditation ensures that programs in bioinformatics are meeting a set of peer-reviewed standards in its curriculum. A full list of authoritative regional accreditation entities is available on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website, which is affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education.

On-Campus Bioinformatics Degree Programs

Rochester Institute of Technology

The school offers an innovative bachelor of science program in bioinformatics and data science. Its faculty combines technical, hands-on, and theoretical approaches to create an interdisciplinary degree that primes students for entrance into the field of biodata science. Expect further coursework in the subjects of biology, natural sciences, healthcare administration, and the health sciences.

  • Location: Rochester, New York
  • Duration: Three to four years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $1,760 per credit

Rochester Institute of Technology

The Rochester Institute of Technology offers an on-campus master of science (MS) in bioinformatics degree that focuses on bioinformatics theory, data programming, proteomics, data management, data science, systems biology, and genetics. Expect additional coursework in the areas of biology, natural sciences, healthcare administration, and the health sciences.

  • Location: Rochester, New York
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $2,171 per credit

University of California, Los Angeles – College of Letters and Science

The bioinformatics graduate program at UCLA is an interdepartmental degree. Currently, they offer a PhD in bioinformatics but starting with the 2022 application cycle they will also be offering a master’s of science in bioinformatics. This is a research-centric program and students will be engaged in lab work from the very first year. Upon completion of core studies, students will be expected to develop a thesis and then complete original research on their subject.

Cross-disciplinary collaboration is a strong hallmark of this degree. UCLA has housed the schools of Medicine, Engineering, Life Sciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Public Health in the same area to facilitate this. As with most PhD programs, admissions are highly competitive. Candidates should submit a strong statement of interest highlighting their research areas of interest along with letters of recommendation and any already completed research.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: Five years
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Tuition: PhD students receive funding to complete this degree

Harvard Medical School – Blavatnik Institute of Biomedical Informatics

Students can complete a master’s of science in biomedical informatics at Harvard Medical School Blavatnik Institute of Biomedical Informatics. The focus of this degree is to use biomedical data for decision making, scientific inquiry, and problem-solving. This is a residential program, and students must complete their studies on campus.

The accelerated option for this program can take as little as two semesters if the student already has a PhD or is enrolled in an MD program. Otherwise, the degree takes three full-time semesters to complete. To be eligible for admission to this degree, candidates must already have a master’s or PhD degree. The accelerated degree is 36 credits, while the standard format is 48 credits.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: As little as two semesters
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Tuition: $54,920 per year

Duke University – Center for Genomic and Computational Biology

The computational biology and bioinformatics PhD at Duke University Center for Genomic and Computational Biology has over 55 faculty members from 18 departments across campus. Students receive intensive training in quantitative and biomedical sciences and are required to participate in research projects, weekly seminars, journal clubs, and one-on-one mentoring with faculty.

To help students with their research, there is a strong commitment in this program to sharing data and reproducible analyses. Students will also have the opportunity for professional development and teaching opportunities to prepare them for a career in this field.

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Duration: At least four years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: PhD students receive funding to complete this degree

Online or Hybrid Bioinformatics Degree Programs

Featured Bioinformatics & Biotechnology Programs
The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences MSHS in Biomedical InformaticsVisit Site
The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences MSHS in Immunohematology and BiotechnologyVisit Site
Arizona State University Biochemistry - Medicinal Chemistry (BS)Visit Site
Arizona State University Biological Sciences - Biomedical Sciences (BS)Visit Site
Arizona State University Biological Sciences - Genetics, Cell and Developmental Biology (BS)Visit Site
Johns Hopkins University - Advanced Academic Programs Biotech Education Post-Bachelor's Certificate Visit Site
Johns Hopkins University - Advanced Academic Programs Master of Biotechnology Enterprise & Entrepreneurship Visit Site
Johns Hopkins University - Advanced Academic Programs MS Bioinformatics Visit Site
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Columbia University – The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science

Columbia University offers an online master of science (MS) in computational biology degree that focuses on subjects such as data science, bioinformatics programming, bioinformatics computational methods, mathematical biology, and bioengineering.

A graduate degree in computational biology is a sensible next step after undergraduate study in bioinformatics or biosciences. A master’s degree in computational biology grants recipients many of the same skills conferred by a bioinformatics program.

  • Location: New York, New York
  • Duration: Eighteen Months to Three Years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $2,272 per credit

Northeastern University

Northeastern University offers an online master of science in bioinformatics that focuses on subjects such as bioinformatics programming, bioinformatics computational methods, and ethics in biomedical research. The program also offers a graduate certificate in data science.

This program from Northeastern can provide prospective bioinformatics or computational biology professionals the skills, knowledge, and practical understanding that are essential to success in the field. Northeastern University’s College of Science is a leading online institution in the field of biodata studies and boasts a faculty of expert bioinformatics professionals.

  • Location: Evanston, Illinois
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $53,800 for the entire program

Johns Hopkins University – Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

The master’s of science in bioinformatics at Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences is a flexible degree with on-campus and online options. This program combines data and computer sciences with several different areas of biological sciences. In addition to studying biochemistry and molecular biology, students will also learn about current issues and gain hands-on through lab courses.

This degree can be completed in a full-time or part-time format. Regardless of the format chosen, students must complete a total of 11 courses for this degree. Overall, this is a highly customizable program with only two required courses. The remainder of the classes are at the students’ discretion, allowing them to pursue their interests. Students even have the option of completing a thesis if they want, but it is not required.

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Duration: Three to four years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $4,815 per biotechnology course

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Students in the online master’s of science in biomedical informatics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have the option of completing an applied track or a research track. The research track focuses on how biomedical data is collected and analyzed into health information that can be used for decision-making. The applied track, on the other hand, uses the data gathered to design and implement health information solutions to improve patient health.

The applied track is much more structured than the research track, with all but one course being required. The research track has 21 credits of electives that students must complete. Students in both tracks must complete a practicum in order to gain hands-on skills. This is a highly successful program, with at least 89 percent of master’s students having secured employment by the time they graduate.

  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $865 per credit

Stanford School of Medicine

The Stanford School of Medicine offers an online master’s of science in biomedical informatics. The objective of this degree is to train students in quantitative and computational methods to solve biological and medical problems. This is a part-time program designed for working professionals who are employed in bioinformatics or a related field. While all of the coursework for this program is available through distance learning, students can complete courses on campus if it suits their learning needs.

Students have up to five years to complete this 45-credit degree. To be eligible for admission to this program, students must complete prerequisite coursework in algebra, calculus, computer science, and biology.

  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Duration: Three to five years
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Tuition: $1,352 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Bioinformatics Scientist?

The length of the road to becoming a bioinformatics professional will vary. Expect a minimum of six years of post-secondary schooling, with up to as much as ten years if you choose to pursue a PhD. Of course, this varies depending on how much on-the-job experience and training a student possesses.

How To Become a Bioinformatics Scientist – Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a bioinformatics scientist, as mentioned above, should take students a minimum of six years, and up to as many as ten years if prospective bioinformatics analysis professionals take longer to pursue more advanced degrees.

Step 1: Graduate High School (Four Years)

As a high school student, a focus on classes in the subjects of biology, data science, statistics, economics, and information technology will help to build a solid foundation for bioinformatics undergraduate study.

Step 2: Earn A Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Earning a bachelor’s degree in a science field with a focus in information sciences, computer studies, or information technology will set you on track for the proper course of graduate study.

Step 3: Gain Industry Experience (One Year or More)

One way to advance a career as a bioinformatics scientist is to gain work experience in the industry itself. This should help you to prepare for certification and more advanced positions, which are typically requisite in candidates being considered for positions in upper management or as clinical directors.

Step 4: Earn a Master’s Degree (Two Years)

Pursuing a master’s degree in computer science, informatics, or information technology with a focus on bioinformatics or mathematical biology can open the door to the world of the top-achieving percentile of bioinformatics scientists.

Students with degrees in related fields can also pursue a bioinformatics certificate. Reputable schools offering on-campus programs include the Harvard University Extension School the University of Illinois. An online graduate certificate in data science in computational biology and bioinformatics is also an option from schools like Lewis University.

The International Society for Computational Biology also maintains a comprehensive list of degrees and certificate programs in bioinformatics.

Step 5: Earn a PhD (Optional, Three Years or More)

To increase earning potential, a doctorate in bioinformatics may be pursued. This credential will allow degree holders to teach, write textbooks, or lead clinics, offices, and university departments in the bioinformatics field. Degrees in computational biology are also generally applicable to similar positions that require a doctoral level of bioinformatics knowledge.

What Do Bioinformatics Scientists Do?

Bioinformatics is used to conduct research via bioinformatics theory. Utilizing methods in areas such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, computational biology, medical technology, proteomics, computer information science, biology, and medical informatics, bioinformatics scientists are vanguards of data. Most have a background in computer science as well as a history of developing algorithms and designing databases for the processing and analysis of genomic or biological information.

They work as bioinformaticians, bioinformatics scientists, directors of bioinformatics and trait discovery, directors of translation and experimental medicine bioinformatics, directors of informatics, research scientists, scientific database curators, scientific informatics project leaders, senior research associates, and senior data scientists.

Bioinformatics Scientist Certifications & Licensure

Certification and licensure are not currently required in bioinformatics. Qualifications sought in candidates for professional opportunities in the field include the requisite educational preparation and industry experience.

That said, there are various certifications in computer languages and software that can be useful. These include proficiency in Apache Hadoop, Python, Ruby, Perl, R, MATLAB, Linux, Unix Shell, and more.

How Much Do Bioinformatics Scientists Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) reports that the bioinformatics-related field of computer and information research scientists will swell 22 percent nationally between 2020 and 2030, adding up to as many as 7,200 new jobs to the market.

The BLS notes that the required entry-level education for a computer and information research scientist is a master’s degree. On average, they earn $130,890 per year. Here is the detailed salary data in this field:

Number of professionals employed in the US (BLS May 2020): 30,220

  • 10th percentile: $72,210
  • 25th percentile: $95,340
  • 50th percentile (median): $126,830
  • 75th percentile: $157,720
  • 90th percentile: $194,430

Bioinformatics Scientists Career Alternatives

Here are a few alternatives to a career as a bioinformatics scientist.

Become a Microbiologist

Microbiologists study microorganisms and minute non-living things. Most microbiologists are employed in research labs where they work with algae, fungi, bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. The majority of microbiologists have completed a master’s degree in microbiology or a related field.

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: The American College of Microbiology and the National Registry of Certified Microbiologists (NRCM)

Become a Biomedical Engineer

Biomedical engineering combines biology, medicine, and engineering to improve patient outcomes. Their primary responsibility is to engineer biomedical equipment although they can also be tasked with installing or maintaining equipment. Biomedical engineers work in hospitals, universities, manufacturing facilities, and research facilities.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: U.S. Board of Examiners for Certification in Clinical Engineering and Healthcare Technology Certification Commission, International Certification Commission for Clinical Engineering and Biomedical Technology

Become an Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists study health issues within a given population. These issues can include diseases, nutrition, environmental factors, and even birth defects. They use data gathered from scientific studies to draw conclusions and improve the health of a community.

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC)
Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker

Writer

Kenneth is a feature writer, poet, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His writing on remote work, education, and technology has been published by BustedCubicle.com, MedicalTechnologySchools.com, and other websites. His poetry, short fiction, and album reviews have appeared in Scifaikuest, Nanoism, and No Clean Singing. His background includes time spent as an associate editor, proofreader, private grammar instructor, freelance content editor, medical claims agent, and SEO consultant. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied literature and worked as a composition tutor.

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